Student Composer Maxx Bradley Finds Musical Inspiration at CofC

This story originally appeared on The College Today, the College of Charleston’s institutional news website.

Maxx Bradley sees music everywhere.

He sees it in the obvious places, like restaurants hosting jazz nights around town and the practice rooms of the College of Charleston’s Cato Center for the Arts. But he also finds it where others might forget to look, be it in a calculus class or a movie. He’s even translated the structure of a poem into musical notes.

Perhaps that’s why compositions flow from him at a seemingly breakneck pace. Bradley, a junior music theory and composition major in the Honors College, just unveiled his 10th work, which combined piano with whistling, last week in a concert in the Simons Center. And with dreams to one day write music for film and TV, he says he doesn’t have any intention of slowing down.

“I compose music because I constantly am surrounded by ideas,” he says. “I’m constantly surrounded by music that I want to incorporate, that I want to try. The most exciting part of making something new is hearing it come to life in a different way than the ideas that inspired it.”

Bradley, a Charleston native, says he’s been playing piano for 16 years and has been writing music since he was in the eighth grade. But his career in composition took off when Yiorgos Vassilandonakis took him under his wing. The associate professor in CofC’s Department of Music, who has also written music for film and other media, served as Bradley’s mentor while he was in high school.

Under Vassilandonakis’ tutelage, Bradley created a new soundtrack to the Spanish surrealist film “Un Chien Andalou” (which translates to “An Andalusian Dog”) as part of his high school senior dissertation. Bradley says the original score was “a spritely tango on strings” that was intentionally very jarring and didn’t match the imagery on scene. So he wrote a soundtrack that would be more fitting of a horror movie.

“I created a soundtrack that does fit and augment the horror you see,” he says. “Based on my dissertation, it worked.”

Vassilandonakis says that from that “very ambitious” project, he could tell Bradley had talent, and the professor worked hard to get him to come to he College once he graduated.

“The thesis project involved extensive analysis and research as well as a composition component which, to my amazement, Maxx completed almost effortlessly,” he says. “I of course wanted to work with him more, and did all I could to attract him to the College of Charleston.”

Bradley took his mentor up on the offer and has benefitted immensely. He says he’s been exposed to many more genres and musical tastes than he ever thought possible; on any given day he can step into a Latin music class in the School of the Arts and hear his classmates practicing experimental pieces in rehearsal spaces not far away. And he says he constantly finds inspiration in his non-music courses.

“I took honors calculus and ended up loving it,” he says. “It gave me ideas of how to geographically represent music in space. It was really inspirational.”

Another benefit: he gets to hear his classmates playing the music he made.

“(The College of Charleston orchestra) performed a piece of mine and the first few times I heard it in rehearsal was one of the best experiences for me,” he says. “Just hearing the music come to life, that’s an experience you can’t get in any other medium.”

Bradley has had “exponential growth” at the College, according to Vassilandonakis, absorbing every little bit of information into his new works. And he’s been able to keep up with the workload: Vassilandonakis says composition takes years to master, long hours of work and learning to cope with failure. In return for that hard work, CofC composition students such as Bradley get unmatched individual attention from the faculty.

“Our success is our graduates and their association with our program doesn’t end with graduation,” he says.

Professor Edward Hart, the Department of Music chairman, has been working with Bradley this year and adds that Bradley has a curious personality that is invaluable for young composers.

He adds, “the fact that Maxx can study composition at the very highest level while receiving a comprehensive education built on the liberal arts gives him a real advantage over students receiving a ‘music only’ experience.”

Bradley says once he graduates in 2018, he hopes to continue his musical education in graduate school at a top program in California. With any hope that will be the next step to a career writing music for the silver screen, TV and even video games. He also hopes to write stand-alone pieces and teach music composition and theory.

“I’m always trying to apply my music to a story,” he says. “There’s always a story to hear in music.”

As for his professors, there’s little doubt about their pupil.

“He’ll probably make us all famous,” Hart says.

Powerful Nor’easter ‘Bombing Out’ in Approach to Tri-State; Blizzard Warnings In Effect

This story originally appeared on NBCNewYork.com on Jan. 22, 2016.

A powerful nor’easter began barreling into the tri-state Friday night slightly ahead of schedule, and Storm Team 4 said the storm has picked up enough intensity and speed to become a potentially paralyzing blizzard with blasting winds, heavy snow and coastal flooding for wide portions of the tri-state.

Storm Team 4 now said the heaviest snow is expected between 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, with increased project snowfall totals for much of the area.

The storm is “bombing out,” Storm Team 4 said, meaning the pressure in center of the storm is dropping rapidly — a sign of a very intense nor’easter. That center of the storm is expected to dump 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour when it moves through the tri-state Saturday.

Blizzard warnings are in effect for all of New York City, Long Island, large swaths of New Jersey, parts of southern Westchester and coastal Connecticut from Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon. A blizzard is defined as a wintry storm lasting longer than 3 hours with visibility below a quarter mile and winds gusting above 35 mph.

Snow started falling across southern New Jersey and the Jersey Shore Friday evening, and by about 10 p.m., flakes were falling steadily in Manhattan and other parts of New York City.

Winds will pick up overnight, and by the time most tri-staters wake up Saturday morning, several inches of snow will already be on the ground. Storm Team 4 is now projecting between 12 and 18 inches of snow to fall on the areas under a blizzard warning. Some isolated parts within the region could even get up to 20 inches of snow.

The lower Hudson Valley is also expected to get about 12 to 18 inches of snow.

Areas slightly further north will get 2 to 6 inches. Above that, in the far northern reaches of New Jersey and New York’s upper Hudson Valley, only trace amounts of snow are expected.

Conditions will worsen as the day progresses, with damaging winds combining with heavy snowfall making for limited visibility.

The dangerous cocktail of snow, astronomical high tides and a wind-swept storm surge could cause significant coastal flooding and beach erosion on the Jersey Shore and parts of Long Island. Waves topping 15 feet may also batter beaches built up with protective sand berms, while winds topping 60 mph could down trees and leave homes without power.

Several towns along the Garden State’s coastline asked residents to leave their homes on a voluntary basis earlier Friday; Barnegat has ordered mandatory evacuations on one street.

The region isn’t expected to be hit as hard as the nation’s capital, where nearly 30 inches of snow could fall, but it’s not a storm that local officials are taking lightly.

Mayor de Blasio has declared a winter weather emergency ahead of the storm and has urged drivers to stay off the roads after 8 a.m. Saturday. He also warned New Yorkers that vehicles blocking plows and emergency vehicles will be towed.

“Get done what you have to get done today,” de Blasio said. ‘Do not bring your vehicle out tomorrow.”

This weekend’s winter weather emergency is different from the travel ban instituted ahead of a forecast blizzard last January. De Blasio said it doesn’t look like the storm will have the same potential impact as the one that forced the MTA to shut down the city’s subway system last year.

“The city is fully prepared,” de Blasio said.

Gov. Cuomo, meanwhile, said that the state is ready for the storm and that it was “not the worst forecast we’ve ever had.” He said salt spreaders and plows are ready and that 600 National Guardsmen are at the ready.

Gov. Christie, back in New Jersey from the Republican presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, also declared as state of emergency.

He authorized NJ Transit to halt service at 2 a.m., and has closed Motor Vehicles Commission offices on Saturday.

The declaration allows Christie to make state resources immediately available to help rescue, evacuate or shelter residents. They could also help the state seek federal assistance if the scope of the event exceeds state resources.

Christie and Cuomo both pleaded residents to stay off the roads.

“One of the greatest burdens becomes stuck vehicles or stranded vehicles,” Cuomo said. “You don’t just endanger yourself, you endanger the emergency personnel who come out to help you.”

NYC Couple Learns of Pregnancy From ‘Broken’ Fitbit

This story was originally published on NBCNewYork.com on Feb. 11, 2016

A Brooklyn man learned a surprising bit of data while trying to troubleshoot what he thought was a problem with his wife’s Fitbit: they were going to be parents.

David Trinidad said he and his wife, Ivonne, had both recently gotten Fitbits with heart rate monitors and were using them to stay in shape. One day his wife mentioned that she thought something was wrong with her device, so he took a look.

Trinidad said his wife’s heart rate was above 100 beats per minute for most of the day and that the device had indicated she had been burning fat for an unusually long 10 hours.

“That’s almost impossible,” he said. “I thought something was wrong with the watch.”

So the 34-year-old went to a Fitbit page on Reddit and outlined his issues, trying to get a fix for the device before sending it back to customer service.

It wasn’t long before one user offered up an explanation, saying maybe his wife was pregnant.

“Has she experienced anything really stressful in the last few days or is it a possibility she is pregnant?” the user said.

The father-to-be said that as soon as he saw the reply, “That’s when the light bulb went off.” He said the pair had been trying to get pregnant for a couple months.

Trinidad said he called his wife and told her to pick up some pregnancy tests on her way home from work. Every test came back positive.

Afterward, they were quick to share the news with their family and on social media, creating @babyfitbit Twitter and Instagram accounts for the little one.

“We’re happy, the grandparents are very happy,” he said. “It’s just been great. Friends and family support us, there’s been tons of support online which has been really unexpected.

Approval Rating for Mayor de Blasio Hits All-Time Low: NBC4/WSJ/Marist Poll

This story originally appeared on NBCNewYork.com on April 14

Mayor de Blasio’s approval rating has hit its lowest point since he took office in 2014, an NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll has found.

Just 35 percent of polled voters in New York City approved of the job that the mayor has done, down from 38 percent in a previous NBC4/WSJ/Marist poll conducted in November.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said they thought the mayor was doing a fair or poor job, up from 58 percent in November. In Thursday’s poll, even a majority of Democrats rated him a fair or poor.

“Bill de Blasio has had a lot of bumps,” said said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “There’s a huge gap in expectations and what he’s been able to accomplish.”

The mayor has also seen his support fall among white voters. Only 27 percent of white voters approve of de Blasio’s performance, down from 32 percent in the fall. Among Latino and Black voters, de Blasio’s approval has been mostly flat at 36 percent, down from 37 percent in November.

Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said that the mayor was focused on other issues and that “polls go up and down, like a playground seesaw.”

De Blasio’s sliding approval rating also comes at a time when New Yorkers polled said things in the Big Apple were going the wrong direction. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they didn’t like the direction the city was headed. That’s a slight improvement from November, when 55 percent of polled voters said they thought the city was moving the wrong way.

Voters also said they didn’t approve of the job Gov. Cuomo was doing. Forty-one percent of those surveyed thought Cuomo was doing an excellent or good job, while 55 percent thought he was doing a fair or poor job.

Cuomo’s ratings reflect a positive trend, however. In the November poll, the governor had a 37 percent approval rating.

Cuomo is perceived most favorably in his hometown of New York City, where 47 percent of respondents said he was doing a good job. In the suburbs, where he owns a home with longtime girlfriend and celebrity chef Sandra Lee, Cuomo has a 44 percent approval rating. He’s not as popular in upstate New York, where just 34 percent of respondents said he was doing a good or excellent job.

NBC 4 New York has reached out to the governor’s office for a response on the poll.

However, more New Yorkers who were polled think the state is moving in the wrong direction than those that think the state is on the right track, the poll found. Fourty-eight percent of respondents statewide said that the state was moving in the wrong direction, compared with 43 percent who thought things were headed the right way.

Meanwhile, half of polled New York City residents have favorable opinions of the state’s direction.

The poll included 767 registered voters in New York City and 2,260 voters statewide. The margin of error was 3.5 points for citywide results and 2.1 points for statewide findings.

Officers Killed in Brooklyn “Paid the Ultimate Sacrifice”: Bratton

This article was originally published on NBCNewYork.com on Dec. 20, 2014.

One of the two officers gunned down Saturday in their patrol car in Brooklyn had just gotten married and the other had recently celebrated his 40th birthday, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were sitting in their car in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Saturday when they were were each shot in the head by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a man NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said made “very anti-police statements” on social media hours before firing on the officers and running into a nearby subway station, where he took his own life.

“Both officers paid the ultimate sacrifice today while protecting the communities they serve,” Bratton said.

Liu and Ramos are the first NYPD officers to be fatally shot in the line of duty since December 2011, when veteran cop Peter Figoski was gunned down by Lamont Pride while he was responding to a break-in call in Brooklyn

Ramos and Liu were both working in a special patrol doing crime reduction in the Brooklyn neighborhood when they were killed, Bratton said. Brinsley is suspected of shooting his girlfriend in Baltimore hours before and posting on Instagram that he was “putting wings on pigs today” before making the trip to the Brooklyn neighborhood.

Bratton said Saturday that Liu was a seven-year veteran with the NYPD and had gotten married two months ago. Ramos joined the force in 2012 and celebrated his 40th birthday with his wife and teenage son earlier this month.

Rosie Orengo, a friend of Ramos, said he was heavily involved in their church and encouraged others in their marriages.

“He was an amazing man. He was the best father and husband and friend,” she said. “Our peace is knowing that he’s OK, and we’ll see him in heaven.”

After the shooting, a line of about eight police officers stood with a German shepherd blocking the taped-off street.

Later, scores of officers in uniform lined up three rows deep outside the hospital to honor the fallen police officers as their bodies were taken away amid silence. The mayor and governor ordered flags at half-staff.

Saturday afternoon, Mayor de Blasio asked New Yorkers to pray for the families of Ramos and Liu.

“It’s a moment of terrible loss and it’s a moment when we must all come together to support these families, to support healing, and to be thankful that there are heroes among us like Officer Ramos and Officer Liu,” de Blasio said.

The president of the police officers union, Patrick Lynch said there was “blood on many hands,” explicitly blaming de Blasio and demonstrators protesting a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict an NYPD officer in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died while being arrested on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes earlier this year.

Some of the officers standing at the hospital where Liu and Ramos were pronounced dead turned their backs on de Blasio as he walked in for a news conference.

On Sunday, Sgt. Ed Mullins, president of the NYC Sergeants Benevolent Association, issued a statement that also implied that City Hall has failed to support the police force.

“We are locked side by side with the PBA,” he wrote. “I assure you from the bottom of my soul there will be accountability from those who have enabled a lawless atmosphere in this city.”

Marc Kovar, executive vice president of the New Jersey PBA, urged officers there to “take extra personal safety steps” in light of the Brooklyn shootings.

“The tragedy in New York City reinforces the need to always be cognizant of people targeting our profession,” he said. “Officers should change up their routines such as meal break locations and wait for additional backup on any calls which appear out of the ordinary.”

 

Search Continues for 3 Missing After Deadly Harlem Gas Explosion

APTOPIX NYC Explosion

Originally published on NBCNewYork.com the morning of March 14, 2014. Read the latest version of this story here

Using heavy equipment and high-tech search gear, rescue crews continued sifting through smoldering rubble early Friday in hopes of finding three people still missing after a gas explosion leveled two upper Manhattan buildings, killing eight and injuring more than 70 others.

Workers said Thursday night they were about 40 to 50 percent through the wreckage of the two five-story buildings that collapsed Wednesday morning at 116th Street and Park Avenue. Crews brought in a backhoe and a bulldozer for the search and were using sound-detecting devices to check for signs of survivors, while searchers poked telescopic video cameras into small voids in to see if anyone was buried in the rubble.

“We are continuing rescue operations, hoping to find others still alive,” Mayor de Blasio said at City Hall Thursday.

FDNY Chief of Department Edward Kilduff told de Blasio as the mayor visited workers in the rubble that most of the victims have been found about 20 feet into the pile, on the left side. Officials said the two buildings were reduced to a pile about three stories high.

Officials cautioned the firefighting and cleanup process would take time. Jim Long, an FDNY spokesman, said acrid smoke, high winds and cold temperatures complicated efforts Thursday. He called the scene “terrible and traumatic” as firefighters sifted through debris for more potential victims.

The NTSB, which probes pipeline explosions as well as transportation disasters, says the cause of the explosion appears to be a gas leak — but surprisingly, the pipe in question is still intact.

“That’s unlike other pipeline accidents that I’ve been to where the pipe is thrown out of a crater,” said Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB. “This pipe is still in the ground.”

Investigators haven’t been able to get a close look at the low-pressure service line, which delivers natural gas for cooking and heat to the buildings that exploded. NTSB says it will examine Con Edison’s handling of customer complaints, the oversight of Con Edison by federal and state officials, and any evidence of possible third-party damage from digging, among other things.

The Red Cross said nearly 70 people, half of them children, are displaced and are staying at the Salvation Army.

Seven of the eight victims killed in the explosion have been identified as Griselde Camacho, 44, Carmen Tanco, 67, Rosaura Hernandez, 22, Andreas Panagopoulos, 43, Rosaura Barrios Vazquez, 43, Alexis Salas, 22, and George Amadeo, 44. The eighth victim has not been identified.

The more than 70 injured include a teen and a woman who were both critically hurt. The 15-year-old boy’s skin was badly burned, and he had broken bones and internal injuries, doctors said. The woman, who was pulled from the debris, is being treated for critical neck and back injuries.

The Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring air quality in the area. As high winds kicked up more debris and smoke Thursday, the mayor said the Health Department is recommending residents in the immediate area limit time outside and keep their windows closed.

The Department of Education said 40 students with asthma returned home Thursday morning from a school located about two blocks away. The school was working with families and handling each student on a case-by-case basis.

Clowney Smash: An Interactive Graphic

4 Suspects Questioned About Heroin in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Apartment: Sources

This story originally appeared on NBCNewYork.com on Feb. 5, 2014. See the latest version of this piece here.

Police are questioning four suspects arrested at a Manhattan apartment with hundreds of bags of heroin to see if they sold drugs to actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead of an apparent overdose, law enforcement sources tell NBC 4 New York.

The suspects — Robert Vineberg, 57, Thomas Kushman, 48, Max Rosenblum and Juliana Luchkiw, both 22 — were arrested on drug charges at an apartment on Mott Street in the East Village after police found more than 300 bags of heroin, sources say. It’s not immediately known if they have attorneys.

Police are looking into whether any of the suspects supplied drugs to Hoffman, who was found dead in the bathroom of his West Village apartment Sunday with a syringe in his arm, sources say. The Oscar-winning actor had been dead several hours when he was found by a friend and is suspected to have died of an overdose. An autopsy was performed on Monday.

Dozens of bags of heroin were found in Hoffman’s apartment, along with prescription drugs and a bag of white powder police were testing for cocaine. Purity tests Tuesday revealed that the heroin did not contain the powerful drug fentanyl, sources told NBC 4 New York. Heroin cut with the synthetic additive was linked to 22 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania.

Hoffman’s last known contacts on Saturday night were with his longtime girlfriend around 8 p.m., and a screenwriter friend about 9 p.m., officials said.

Sources say bank records show Hoffman withdrew $1,200 from an ATM at a supermarket near his West Village home between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. the night he died. A witness told investigators he saw Hoffman speaking with two men wearing messenger bags as he withdrew the money.

Detectives are looking into whether he bought the drugs the night of his death.

Hoffman, who was 46 and had three children, won the Oscar for Best Actor in 2006 for his starring role in “Capote.” He was nominated for Oscars three other times, including for 2012’s “The Master,” and he earned two Tony nominations for his work on Broadway.

Hoffman spoke over the years about past struggles with drug addiction. After 23 years sober, he admitted in interviews last year to falling off the wagon and developing a heroin problem that led to a stint in rehab.

Columbia brothers save 9 people from burning apartments

Originally published in The State newspaper Oct. 10, 2012. Read it on thestate.com.

Terrell Hammonds says divine intervention opened his eyes at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

“God woke me up,” he said.

First, he smelled the smoke from his bed. Outside, there was an orange glow of a fire just starting on the front porch of his first-floor apartment. He grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to extinguish the blaze, but nothing came out of the nozzle. He yelled for his brother Terrance, who tried to extinguish the flames with a pot of water. The fire didn’t go out.

“I was racing against time,” Terrell said. “I went out and started banging on everybody’s doors.”

As the building went up in flames, the brothers knocked on every door at Stoney Creek Apartments’ building 18 until each of the eight residents and one child inside were out. Then, they stood in the parking lot and waited for firefighters to arrive.

Shameka James was asleep in one of the building’s other apartments when the fire started. Terrell Hammonds woke her up and made sure she got out of the building before the flames spread to her unit, she said.

“If he wasn’t there, I might not have made it out on time,” she said.

“Everybody stood and watched the building burn down,” Terrell Hammonds said. “There was nothing else we could do.”

An Irmo Fire District battalion chief arrived within about five minutes and found a heavy fire at the apartment building off on Berryhill Drive in the St. Andrews area, Irmo Fire Marshal Jeff Allen said.

Once firefighters were sure everyone was out of the building and uninjured, they spent the next two hours bringing the blaze under control. Every one of the building’s residents was displaced by the fire.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but Allen said it seems to have started accidentally.

The fire spread quickly, climbing up the walls of Terrance and Terrell Hammonds’ apartment before crossing to the other side of the building through the attic, Allen said. Then, he said, falling debris set the second floor apartment across the hall ablaze.

“People don’t realize that fire can double in size every sixty seconds,” Allen said.

The American Red Cross is providing three days of housing to the nine residents, along with Terrell Hammonds’ sister and a third brother, who weren’t home at the time of the fire. The Red Cross also gave the residents clothes and food and is working with the apartment complex to get the everyone relocated.

Residents spent most of the day pulling what they could from the rubble of their apartments. Terrance Hammonds said he wasn’t sure what his family was going to do next.

“We’re going to take it day by day and build up each others’ confidence,” he said.

Nearly 12 hours after the fire started, Terrell Hammonds was still sitting outside the building on a plastic stool. He was upset to have lost everything but said he was grateful everyone was OK.

“If I had woken up 5 minutes later, we might not be here,” he said.

‘We never even got to see his eyes’

This story originally appeared in The Item newspaper Oct. 18, 2011. Read it at theitem.com.

As he lay lifeless in her arms, Beckie Grubbs made baby Benjamin a promise.
“I made a promise to that baby,” she said. “I promised to give his life meaning.”
Benjamin, not even a day away from being delivered at a hospital in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was stillborn June 20. Grubbs rocked her grandson for the first and only time that day in the somber maternity ward room while doctors and social workers tended to his mother, Ashley Grubbs.
They’d both been through this before – Beckie had two miscarriages when she was young; Ashley, only 26, had already had four – but this was much more painful. Benjamin was so close to making it.
That’s why, Beckie said, she made her promise. And Saturday at Bethesda Church of God on Broad Street, she started fulfilling her vow by arranging a memorial service for all lost infants and pregnancies.
“No mother should walk away from a birth with only a death certificate,” Beckie said.

“THE WORST THING”
Ashley and her fiance, Chris Davis, had been planning for this pregnancy. She had been trying to have a baby for some time, but because of a genetic disorder that sent microscopic clots through her blood stream and into developing placentas, she had already had four miscarriages. The clots would keep developing fetuses from getting necessary nutrients, she said, so the pregnancies would be lost.
“I would find out I was pregnant one day and miscarry the next,” she said.
But with Benjamin, the Florida couple had a plan. They met with their OB/GYN and got treatments that would take the pregnancy past the first trimester, and were confident that Benjamin would make it – he kicked so much each morning that he would wake Ashley up. An appointment was made at the hospital to have the baby delivered June 21.
But on June 20, Benjamin didn’t wake his mother up. Ashley, a little concerned, called the doctor. She said she figured she was getting ready for labor, so she went to the hospital. When they got there, doctors told Ashley and Chris the news. Benjamin’s heart had stopped beating.
“It was awful,” she said. “It was literally the worst thing that you could ever have happen to you.”

6 POUNDS, 2 OUNCES
Beckie was in Sumter when she heard her grandson had died. Her husband, an airman at Shaw Air Force Base, was deployed, and she was looking after two of her grandchildren, so she couldn’t leave immediately. She got her mother-in-law to look after the children and made the nine-hour drive to Fort Walton.
“I left as soon as I could the next morning,” Beckie said.
After he was delivered via Caesarean section, doctors let the family spend about 10 hours with Benjamin’s body. For a baby of 37 weeks and 5 days, he was just about average weight at 6 pounds, 2 ounces. His hair was wispy and brown, with just a little bit of curl. His full cheeks and nose were Ashley’s, and the dimple on his chin came from Chris. Looking at photos of Beckie and Ashley holding him, you’d think Benjamin was asleep. But his eyelids never opened.
“We never even got to see his eyes,” Ashley said.
Beckie washed him, just as if he were breathing, and they passed him around, each taking turns holding him while hospital staffers prepared a death certificate. Beckie made her promise, and Ashley, Chris and Benjamin got to be a family, if only for a little while.
“It was the best and worst moment of my life,” Ashley said. “It was the best because we got be got to be a family, but it was worst because it was the only time.”

FEELING PAIN
Doctors and social workers were quick to comfort Ashley. Hospital staff handled Benjamin’s stillbirth delicately, she said. A chaplain offered words, they gave her information on coping with the loss of her son and helped her think about funeral plans. They put all of the things from the day – every diaper and piece of clothing, even the soap Beckie washed him with – into a memory box and gave it to her. In the weeks after, friends reached out to her and she built a support network.
“I’ve had friends that had similar experiences that I didn’t even know about talk to me,” she said.
But for Beckie, it was different. She was expecting this baby, too, she said, and when it didn’t come it hurt just as much. But, as hospital staff and workers tended to Ashley and her fiance, she was left alone.
“I had just one person come up to me,” she said. “She said ‘I’m a grandma, too, and I know you’re feeling pain.'”
It didn’t change much after she left the hospital, she said. She looked for support groups and information, but there wasn’t a lot out there for grandparents. So, she said, she leaned on her church family at Bethesda Church of God.
“There needs to be more support for the grandparents and other family members,” she said.

A SMALL CEREMONY
The memorial service at Bethesda on Saturday was a quiet, short affair. Ashley couldn’t make the trip up for the event, but Beckie made sure there were plenty of people there to remember Benjamin. When she asked the church pastor for permission to hold the ceremony in the parking lot, she didn’t expect him to announce it during a televised service. But, she said, it helped grow the scope of the event. A few mothers from the church congregation who had miscarried showed up, and people from all over sent the names of children. Beckie read the names of the children, and they released about two hundred balloons into the clear morning sky. Each, was scrawled with the name of a baby: Beckie wrote “I love you, Nana” underneath Benjamin’s name.
“I believe it helped,” Beckie said of the ceremony. “I really do.”
So did some of the other mothers there.
Jennifer Mitscher goes to Bethesda and came when the pastor announced the event. She’s had two miscarriages and had never been to an event quite like the one Saturday. She said she was glad that attention was being brought to the pain mothers and families go through when a pregnancy is lost.
“This is recognition that life doesn’t begin at birth,” she said. “Just because they don’t make it through pregnancy doesn’t mean that a baby hasn’t changed your life.”
Robin Murphy was also at the event. Like Beckie, she has been dealing with the loss of her grandson Aiden since he died of sudden infant death syndrome April 29 at 12 weeks. Dealing with his loss has been difficult for her and her daughter Rachel, but she said she was happy that someone was honoring infant and pregnancy loss.
“Finally, someone is finally acknowledging it,” she said. “Everywhere there is breast cancer awareness, but not for this.”

“BENJAMIN’S LEGACY”
Beckie Grubbs said she doesn’t want her promise to her late grandson to end with Saturday’s ceremony for families that have suffered the death of a baby or loss of a pregnancy.
She and her daughter Ashley are both working to set up a nonprofit organization they’ll call “Benjamin’s Legacy” so they can reach out to families grieving from pregnancy and infant loss. Ashley said she envisions donating memory boxes like the one she received to hospitals. Beckie said she hopes that they can use funds raised through the charity to help cover final expenses.
“It was $100 to have (Benjamin) cremated,” Beckie said. “You’re buying cribs and diapers and strollers and everything else a baby will need. You might not have $100 then.”
They’re still early in the organizing process, but Beckie said she thinks they could help a lot of families in South Carolina.
In 2008, the most recent year in which data from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control was available, 504 infants died before they were a year old – about 8 per 1,000. That same year, 542 died while still in the fetal stages, and 852 died in childbirth. Those numbers have fallen almost every year since 1983, but Beckie said such an event still leaves a lot of families wondering what to do next.
“It helps immensely to know you’re not alone,” she said.
Ashley continues to want to have a child and plans to try to get pregnant again. She said she hopes the charity, once founded, can help guide families through the grieving process. She said that the charity might give out books on coping with loss or help with personal support.
“Nobody tells you how to deal with this or how to move on,” she said. “We can be that support.”
Beckie hopes her plans will fulfill her promise to Benjamin. She said by the time she comes back to Bethesda Church of God next Oct. 15, she wants her charity set up and in full swing. But, for the time being, this year’s balloons will do.
“It’s a start,” she said.